Archives for February, 2012
Parents worry a lot about their kids nowadays. Life has become more complex and the world seems to deliver a constant stream of unpredictable stressors, challenges, calamities, toxins and traumas. Parents naturally want to help their kids overcome these difficulties and succeed in life. In other words, they want their kids to feel happy, secure, and competent. So naturally, many parents feel quite upset when they see their kids experiencing distress. At those times, they feel highly motivated to help their kids calm down. To accomplish that goal, these parents will often: Explore what may be bothering their kids Reassure their kids that everything will be alright Hug their kids to help them calm down Talk with their kids for as long as it takes to help them feel better Find ways of making their kids feel better by giving them things they want (e.g., ice cream, money, etc.) Generally speaking, one or more of these strategies will, in fact, result in both kids and their parents feeling better. There can’t be any problem with that can there? Well, actually there is.
A couple of days ago, we wrote about exposure. The opposite of exposure is avoidance. We touch on the topic of avoidance fairly often in this blog, but it’s been years since we focused on the topic exclusively. That’s too long because avoidance is arguably the most important thing for you to understand in order to successfully battle anxiety and OCD, or for that matter, most types of emotional disorders. Humans have an understandable desire to avoid feeling distress, anxiety, sadness, and upsets of all kinds. If you’re like most people, when you experience these feelings, you’ll do almost anything to get rid of them. Common strategies include: Abusing substances like drugs or alcohol Distraction Smoking Staying in the house Making great efforts to avoid the triggers for your upsets
We have been writing this blog for a few years. When we started, we decided to call the blog Anxiety and OCD Exposed. It’s been a long time since we have discussed why we decided on that title so we thought that new readers might want some explanation. The term “exposed” may bring up a lot of different thoughts such as: • Finding out that a politician was cheating on his wife • Discovering a dumping ground of toxic waste • The feeling of your hands when you forget to wear gloves in cold weather • A politician taking opposite positions in the same campaign • Not noticing the piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe • The most effective treatment for anxiety and OCD Research says that overall the best treatment for anxiety and OCD is a method called exposure. When people are afraid or anxious about something, they tend to avoid it. The more they avoid what they fear, the more fearful they become. Exposure helps people face their fears in a gradual way. Most people find that after being exposed to their fear or OCD triggers, over a period of time, their anxiety decreases. The goal of exposure is not to eliminate all anxiety, but to make anxiety manageable.
Some kids love school and others are more reluctant. How should parents respond when children complain about school, start to cry about leaving home, or even have a tantrum rather than going to school? If your child has reluctance about going to school, start with the following: Talk to your child about school. Is there a problem going on that you are unaware of? Sometimes kids will not really know why they don’t want to go, it’s just a feeling of unease. But in some cases, kids will identify specific reasons for not wanting to go to school. Common reasons include being teased or bullied by other kids or not understanding some part of the school work.
As you no doubt know, bad things happen to good people from time to time. There’s no rhyme or reason for it and it’s not particularly fair, but such things do happen. Sometimes these events are quite awful such as serious traumas or illnesses. And when these things happen out of the blue, people often experience a huge wave of difficult feelings. Emotions such as great upset, distress, anger, and despair are quite typical and frankly, normal at these times. It’s also pretty typical to find yourself railing about the unfairness of it all and the fact that you don’t deserve what’s happened. When these thoughts and feelings occur, generally the person will take on a new role in life—that of a patient or even a victim. And friends, healthcare providers, therapists, and family generally pick up the appropriate role of helpers.
When people you care about or love have problems with anxiety, the most natural thing in the world is to help. You may find yourself wanting to reassure them that everything will be OK. That sounds good, but in other blogs, we’ve discussed how reassurance can boomerang and easily make things worse. No doubt, we’ll write about how reassurance works in more blogs down the road because people fall into that trap all of the time. Alternatively, you may want to coach your loved one through the problem. That strategy actually works sometimes, but it’s very tricky and we recommend professional guidance for both yourself and your loved ones if you want to become their coach. Coaching, like reassurance, can easily backfire, cause arguments, or be perceived as criticism by people you’re trying to help.
Today is quiet. The southern Rockies that I see out my windows are dusted with snow and the sun peeks in and out between broken clouds. The wind is picking up and the temperature is below 50—it’s a pretty typical winter day. Later as it cools, I think I’ll make a fire. My goals for today are modest, sort through the recycles, do a few loads of laundry, and write a blog. I’m trying not to get a cold so I’m drinking lots of juice and I am spending most of the afternoon reading, one dog sleeping below me and the other curled up on the couch. It’s a bit chilly so I cover myself with an afghan that my mother knitted years ago. Pretty cozy.
Most lay people, and quite a few professionals for that matter, have an erroneous assumption about what negative reinforcement is all about. Specifically, they believe that negative reinforcement and punishment are essentially the same thing. But they’re not. And you should really know what negative reinforcement is all about because it can affect you and the people you care about a lot. The “reinforcement” part of the term means that negative reinforcement is a strategy that tends to “reinforce” or increase the likelihood that a behavior will happen again. In other words, negative reinforcement strengthens behaviors to which it is applied and makes them more likely to occur again. By contrast, punishment involves delivering an unpleasant consequence to behaviors in the hopes that the problem behaviors will decrease. Negative reinforcement occurs whenever a behavior manages to eliminate or rid you of a distressing, unpleasant event or feeling. And I can tell you, negative reinforcement can have amazing power. Our dog Murphy knows this principle very, very well even though she’s never read a single psychology book (that I know of anyway—I’ll have to ask her to be sure). When Murphy wants to be petted (which is rather often), she goes up to any human that’s around and starts to scratch that person’s knee. Her scratch is pretty annoying, if not painful at times.